City school enrollment headed up

Data show halt to decades-long trend of losing up to 3% a year

November 09, 2008|By Sara Neufeld | Sara Neufeld,sara.neufeld@baltsun.com

Enrollment in the Baltimore schools has been plummeting since 1969. But not this year.

City schools chief Andres Alonso threw a party at M&T Bank Stadium yesterday morning to announce that the enrollment decline has stopped - the result of more parents choosing to send their children to public elementary schools and fewer high school students dropping out.

The school system's enrollment peaked at 193,000 in 1969. Last academic year, it was 81,274. Officials are still finalizing this year's figure, but it's estimated to be about 82,000.

While Alonso is hoping for bigger increases in the coming years, he was elated to stop the trend of losing 2.5 percent to 3 percent of the population annually. State demographers had predicted the system would lose 3,000 students this year.

"The decades of decline are over," Alonso said at the party, held before the annual football game between Baltimore's rival flagship high schools, Polytechnic Institute and City College. Poly won the game yesterday.

"We are now a business that is attracting customers," Alonso said.

Enrollment in the city schools stabilized briefly in the early 1990s during the baby boom echo and the introduction of pre-kindergarten at many schools.

Otherwise, the decline has been swift for nearly four decades. Between 1969 and 1974 alone, the system lost 20,000 students as families began to migrate to the suburbs.

Reversing the decline has been a top priority for Alonso since he became chief executive officer of the city schools in July 2007.

He says the system is not sustainable if parents don't want to send their children to its schools, and if it can't keep the students it has. If there's a demand for the public schools, the overall health of the city improves.

Alonso called news of the enrollment increase "monumental," but added, "we have so far to go."

Over the past three years, the system has opened 25 public charter schools, which are independently run and typically appeal to parents.

This year, in response to parent complaints that there aren't enough good options for middle and high school, Alonso opened five new middle-high schools that are similar to charters.

Much of this year's enrollment increase came from more parents enrolling their children in pre-kindergarten. Pre-kindergarten enrollment increased from 3,642 last year to an estimated 4,110 this year.

In addition, the system saw a jump in the size of its sophomore and senior high school classes, an indication that fewer students are dropping out.

Alonso is particularly proud of the increased 10th-grade enrollment, since the majority of dropouts occur after freshman year.

Last year, there were 5,871 sophomores in the city. This year, there are 6,106. But that's still a significant drop from the 8,221 students who were freshmen last year.

Not all of those who did not return for sophomore year dropped out; some likely transferred elsewhere.

Yesterday's party was attended by more than 200 school employees, parents and students.

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